Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Passing of Barbara Kasler

Sad news to report in the Larry Seidlin civil case. Barbara Kasler, the 84-year-old widow the former judge is accused of financially exploiting, has died. Kasler, who suffered serious health problems for the past several years, died of natural causes, according to sources.

Bob Norman's Pulp

See Also:
Courthouse Witness Unloads on Judge Larry Seidlin

Woman Sentenced to 2-10 Years for Beating Incapacitated Woman

A young mother was sentenced to two to ten years in the penitentiary for an attack on an incapacitated woman she was caring for.

Natasha Grimes, 26, told a judge she was sorry she beat 29-year-old Christina Starcher in the home the women were sharing.

Grimes and her two children were living with Starcher and Grimes cared for the woman during her recuperation from back surgery. Police were called to the home September 25 and found Starcher lying in the doorway with cuts, bruises and missing clumps of hair.

She was arrested and charged with first-degree robbery after authorities said she attempted to steal prescription medications from the woman and left the house with her cell phone and debit cards.

The robbery charge was dropped when Grimes accepted a plea agreement from prosecutors and pleaded guilty to abuse.

She told the judge at her plea hearing that she was under the influence of alcohol when she beat Starcher. A prosecutor said then that Grimes threatened to kill Starcher, assaulted her and held her down with her knee.

Kanawha Circuit Judge Louis "Duke" Bloom told her, "It was an act of violence that has had an impact beyond you. I don't know if an alternative sentence is appropriate for this kind of conduct."

Full Articleand Source:
Young Mother Sentenced For Beating Incapacitated Woman

Justices May Expand Govt. FOIA Disclosure

Talk to any activist or researcher who uses the Freedom of Information Act to obtain government documents, and sooner or later that person will lament, "It takes forever to get the documents."

[T]hose very words came from the mouth of Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. during arguments in an FOIA case, Milner v. Department of the Navy. It was a signal that the high court, which is usually stingy when it comes to the act, might actually be poised to hand a rare victory to someone who wants to expand the scope of government disclosure.

The case involves one of the specified exemptions to disclosure under the act — Exemption 2 — allowing government agencies to withhold documents "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency." But ever since an appeals court ruling in 1981, agencies and lower courts have turned the exemption into a broader, catchall exemption. FOIA advocates say the broader interpretation is misused to justify turning down FOIA requests on the grounds that the requested information might allow someone to circumvent agency policies or commit some other kind of unwanted mischief.

It was that widening of Exemption 2 beyond its plain language that seemed to annoy several justices, most notably Roberts. "It seems to me you're asking us to do your job," Roberts told Anthony Yang, assistant to the solicitor general. "You are telling us how sensitive these [documents] are and therefore it would harm the national interest if they have to be disclosed. If that's true, you can classify them … instead of coming to us and saying you should torture the language in FOIA." Yang said classification would not be easily done.

Justice Anthony Kennedy also seemed dubious about the broad interpretation of the exemption, stating that if an agency promulgated rules about the placement of bombs, it is "hard for me to explain that it's just a personnel rule."

Full Article and Source:
Justices May Expand Govt. FOIA Disclosure

Friday, December 10, 2010

Who Will Make the Life-or-Death Decision For You?

In health care facilities nationwide, so-called ethics committees have become a reality over the last few decades. They are now part of many facilities' risk-management process, and they make life-or-death decisions every day, motivated largely by the desire to reduce expenses and liability.

We have been involved in hundreds of cases, many of which concerned decisions made by these eithics committees. Nothing underscores how they threaten innocent lives more than the case of Gary and Sara Harvey of Horseheads, New York.

In February 2007, Chemung County stripped Sara of her rights a guardian of her husband, and Gary has remained a ward of th eCounty ever since. In May 2009, he was transferred to St. Joseph's Hospital in Elmira, where he remains. About two weeks later, the hospital's ethics committee recommended the removal of Gary's nutrition and hydration tube, and the issuance of a do-not-resuscitate order. This was done without the direction of Gary's family and would have ensured his death.

What is even worse is that these events have occurred at a Catholic health care facility. And Bishop Matthew Clark, of the Rochester diocese, as basically turned his back on the situation.

Pernicious scenarios similar to the Harvey's ordeal take place often, but usually so silently that most people are simply unaware of the dangers.

Full Article and Source:
The Truth About Death Panels - Who Will Make the Life and Death Decision for You?

See Also:

YouTube: Poor People

OH: Lawyer Suspended for Cheating Elderly Ward

A probate lawyer who admitted to scamming an elderly ward out of more than $20,000 was suspended from practicing law indefinitely [12/2/2010].

The Ohio Supreme Court unanimously imposed the penalty against Jeffrey A. Zapor, who had been appointed by the Franklin County Probate Court as the guardian of an 86-year-old Columbus woman.

Zapor, 33, admitted to making $20,876 in unauthorized withdrawals from the woman's bank account in 2007 and 2008. He was convicted of fifth-degree felony theft in December 2009.

Zapor, who moved to Sylvania near Toledo, attributed his behavior to problems with alcohol and gambling, court records show.

In its decision today, the Supreme Court said Zapor would need to demonstrate that he has sought treatment before he may petition to be reinstated as a lawyer.

"(Zapor's) testimony also suggested that he has taken steps to resolve his substance-abuse and gambling problems, which he claims played at least some role in his poor choices," the court noted.

Full Article and Source:
Lawyer Suspended For Cheating Elderly Ward

Ohio: Evelyn Schwartz Belongings 'Dumped'

The guardian put in a dumpster and threw away bags and bags of things of Dean's (who was not evcited) and Evelyn's, prior to even the 'case' being settled.

After he removed the first dumpster because he got caught - yet with loads of 'stolen' things in it, he then placed another dumpster there a month later, to finish the job, after getting the notice from our atty of need to lawfully evict Dean, and give us a chance to remove his things.

Guardian Says, "Who Will Make Me, How About it County Grand Jury, is He Right or Wrong?

See Also:
Evelyn Pleads for Help

Thursday, December 9, 2010

More Injustice for Marie Long

A Maricopa County Superior Court judge has been asked to order a pair of attorneys to pay up to $85,000 to reimburse an elderly lady who was driven into poverty while under the protection of Probate Court.

No, attorney Brenda Church isn't on the hook. She and her law firm soaked up more than $230,000 from Marie Long in 2009 alone, according to court records. That is 54 percent of everything the 89-year-old widow had left last year, after four years in probate. Church hasn't been asked to return a dime of the $333,000 she and her law firms have collected since becoming involved with Marie's trust in 2005.

The Sun Valley Group isn't on the hook either. The Tempe-based fiduciary collected more than $53,000 in guardian fees last year, 12.5 percent of what was left of Marie's life savings in 2009. Court records show Sun Valley has collected a staggering $417,000 in guardian and care fees over the 4 1/2 years it was watching over Marie. It hasn't been asked to return a single cent.

The only people being asked to pony up are the people who largely worked for free - the ones who pleaded time and again for the courts to stop the wholesale siphoning of Marie's accounts. In the world of probate, they're the ones to blame for the old lady becoming destitute and dependent on taxpayers for support.

[T]he woman who previously oversaw Marie's trust - a niece who resigned as trustee more than a year ago - is asking Judge Robert Budoff to order the return of $85,000 to the trust. But not from the people who wound up with most of the money. Genevieve Olen wants Marie's sisters and attorneys Jon Kitchel and Dan Raynak to pony up.

Full Article and Source:
Still No Justice in Probate Case

Maricopa Co. Probate Courts: Courts Tightening Scrutiny

Judges in Maricopa County Probate Court appear to be cracking down on the kinds of legal fees that have been allowed to deplete the life savings of some individuals placed under the court's protection.

Judges in the past month have proposed tough limits on what attorneys and private fiduciaries can charge and have asked lawyers to justify their bills and to waive hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. The heightened scrutiny signals a change in how the court monitors and reviews cases.

The most dramatic example came during a Nov. 18 hearing when Judge Robert Myers asked several attorneys in one case to voluntarily give up nearly $300,000 in legal fees. They obliged.

"The presiding judge of the court and the presiding probate judge have made it clear that things are going to be different," Myers said during a recent interview. "There is going to be oversight of fiduciaries and lawyers."

The changes come amid an ongoing investigation by The Arizona Republic, which has found that judges rarely step in to limit or reverse fees in cases, even when wards of the court end up broke and on state-paid care.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court - Court Tightens Its Scrutiny of Fees Charged

A Deal is Reached in the L'Oreal Case

France's richest woman and her daughter have resolved a protracted legal dispute over more than euro1 billion ($1.3 billion) that swelled into a national scandal and raised questions about the future of the family fortune, lawyers said.

"There is no more case as far as we are concerned," lawyer Olivier Metzner told The Associated Press.

L'Oreal cosmetics heiress Liliane Bettencourt, 88, and her daughter Francoise Bettencourt Meyers have reconciled, Metzner said, adding, "We are bringing an end to all procedures given this familial reunion."

The daughter had publicly accused photographer Francois-Marie Banier of abusing her mother's alleged mental frailty and abusing her trust to bilk Liliane Bettencourt out of euro1 billion ($1.3 billion) in cash, artworks and other gifts. Banier, a longtime friend of Bettencourt's, has insisted he did not take advantage of her, but the dispute prompted a string of legal cases.

Metzner said the photographer "has renounced many of the benefits he received. And we are renouncing any procedure regarding him."

The photographer's lawyer confirmed an agreement was signed, but provided no details.

Full Article and Source:
Peace Pact Resolves Ugly Family Feud at L'Oreal

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Priest's Estate Leads to Big Fee Battle

When Monsignor Edward Ryle died in December 2005, he left behind a reputation as "God's lobbyist" at the state Capitol, a modest estate and no will.

His extended family hired a private fiduciary to gather, liquidate and distribute the Catholic priest's assets: a downtown condo, a car, some cash and a small pension.

The fiduciary firm estimated the total cost of services would be about $3,000, to be paid out of Ryle's assets. The fiduciary's attorney estimated his fees at up to $5,000.When the bill arrived, it totaled $33,607, more than four times the original estimate, according to the priest's relatives and bills seen by The Arizona Republic, although it eventually was reduced.

Ryle's case is an example of how probate cases can sometimes become far more expensive than families expect when they turn to attorneys and for-profit fiduciaries for help when a relative dies without leaving instructions about their assets.

When people die with no trusts or wills that spell out how an estate should be divided up, the Maricopa County Probate Court may appoint a fiduciary, sometimes at family members' request, as a "personal representative" to sort out the cash and assets.

The fiduciary's fees, and its attorney's fees, can be predictable and modest - or, as in Ryle's case, can be higher than anticipated and anger family members.

Ryle's nephew, Michael Petty, said family members were "absolutely shocked" when the fiduciary's bill arrived in the mail.

"It was the irony that impacted us. Uncle Ed lived his life to defend people who had no voice," Petty said. "That's what he did. Of all people to take advantage of."

Greg DoVico, owner of Southwest Fiduciary, which handled the case, and Southwest's attorney, Jay Polk, said the estate was more complicated than expected and the family was kept informed.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court - Priest's Estate Leads to Big Fee Battle

Editorial: Legislature Should Protect Citizens

I would like to thank The Arizona Republic for investigating the Probate Court system in Maricopa County and how the incapacitated seem to fall victim to the private fiduciaries that are appointed by the courts ("In Ariz., probate controls minimal," Sunday). Our state legislators do not seem to care that the life savings and investments of the victims are eaten up by horrible fees imposed by their "guardians."

It would seem there are laws in other states that limit the fees charged by fiduciaries. I had always thought that a guardian was supposed to look out for someone's welfare, not spend them penniless. Our legislators seem overly interested in federal issues and are not howling about the almost helpless citizens in this state being overcharged or victimized. I, for one, would like to see the Legislature start tending the home fires and quit carping so much about the federal government.

- Charley Gwinn, Phoenix

Editorial: Legislature Should Protect Citizens

Lawyers Often Ratchet Up Guardianship Fees

When people incapable of caring for themselves or their money end up in Maricopa County Probate Court, judges turn to a list of contract lawyers who have been pre-screened to represent those clients.

A Phoenix firm has handled hundreds of the cases, and some of its attorneys have raised their hourly rates on clients without notifying them in writing, court records show, an apparent violation of ethics rules that require such disclosure.

The firm of Theut, Theut and Theut increased its hourly rates 2.5 percent to 70 percent in half of 50 cases examined by The Arizona Republic. Most of the increases were at least 20 percent. The cases lasted months to several years. The firm, among the Valley's busiest with court-appointed probate cases, netted thousands in additional fees.

Although hikes in any one case may have yielded only a small amount of additional revenue, the increases went into effect unquestioned by judges and commissioners. That, some lawyers and a judge say, illustrates how the Probate Court has failed to provide oversight for the incapacitated clients it is supposed to protect.

An ongoing Republic investigation of the county Probate Court has found that attorneys and private fiduciaries charge fees that can quickly deplete an incapacitated person's life savings. Judges rarely reverse or stop the charges, even when the ward ends up broke and in state-paid care.

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa County Probate Court: Lawyers Often Ratchet Up Fees

AZ : Lawyers Substituted Despite Law

Contracts for court-appointed attorneys in Maricopa County Probate Court require that any lawyer assigned to protect an incapacitated adult personally handle the entire case.

But court records show some law firms have taken on clients in the name of one attorney and gotten another lawyer in the firm to do the work. Court contracts have banned that practice for years to prevent lawyers on the contract rotation list from getting a disproportionate share of cases or farming out work to non-contract attorneys. Court observers say the practice could allow some lawyers to bill at higher rates than those charged by the person doing the actual work.

Yet county administrators are not raising objections.

Court records show that the Phoenix law firm of Theut, Theut and Theut, whose attorneys are assigned more probate cases than nearly any other, substituted lawyers in more than half of the cases it handled in 2007 and 2008.

The firm's lawyers, who are brothers, say they were given verbal permission to substitute attorneys on cases by the county agency in charge of overseeing contracts. They say no judge has ever raised it as an issue.

Court contracts state that a contract attorney can provide a substitute only in the event of illness, approved vacation or when otherwise physically unable to appear in court. It mandates that the "contractor is expected to personally attend each and every court or court-related proceeding."

Lawyer Mark Kennedy, who ran the Office of Public Defense Service from 2000 to 2007, said the contract provisions were added years ago to stop rampant problems involving lawyers from taking out contracts and farming out the work to partners or outside firms.

"This is a personal-services contract," said Kennedy. "It is not awarded to firms."

Full Article and Source:
Maricopa Probate Court: Lawyers Substituted Despite Law

Monday, December 6, 2010

NY: Elder Abuse More Prevalent Than Previously Thought

A new study has found alarming rates of undetected elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. Although limited to New York State, the study suggests that elder abuse is far more prevalent than was previously known. For example, the study found that for all types of elder abuse, there are 23.5 unreported cases to every one reported to any agency.

Researchers conducted random telephone surveys of 4,000 New York residents 60 years and older, and compared the occurrence of elder abuse uncovered by the surveys to the numbers of cases reported to adult protective services, law enforcement and other officials or providers. In the case of financial exploitation, the study found 43.9 self-reported cases to every one reported to an agency. The ratio of neglect cases was even higher, with 57.2 cases going unreported for every one that comes to the attention of any services system. A previous study reported by ElderLawAnswers found that for each case of abuse reported, there are at least four that go unreported.

Full Article and Source:
Study Finds That Elder Abuse is More Prevalent Than Previously Thought

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Multimillionnaire on a Budget

For more than four decades, multimillionaire oil heir Ugo di Portanova has been all but powerless over his vast fortune.

His three Mercedes-Benzes, his chartered plane trips, his yacht excursions and the rest of his spending are all controlled by a small militia of Harris County probate court guardians, financial trustees, lawyers and judges.

Despite $65 million-plus in assets, di Portanova — described as one of the world's wealthiest "partially incapacitated" men — controls a single credit card that maxes out at $1,000 a month.

Fluent in Italian and English, a poet and patron of the arts, di Portanova has suffered from schizophrenia and has, say those who know him, a distaste for litigation and financial mumbo-jumbo. Though judged unable to manage his money or most personal decisions, he did successfully fight the courts to regain his right to marry, write his own will and control pocket money.

Over the decades, at least $50 million of his inheritance has gone to more than two dozen court-appointed guardians, trustees, attorneys, accountants and bankers - about $4.5 million of which was consumed in the latest yearlong battle that ended only weeks ago. Those estimates are based on the Chronicle's review of accountings, related records and interviews with various participants in the long-running probate case.

Full Article and Source:
A Multimillioinnaire Who Rarely Gets to Spend a Dime

TX: Tarrant Judge Collects Cars and Canines

A probate judge for nearly 30 years, Pat Ferchill spends much of his time dealing with the dead, dying, legally incapacitated or mentally ill.

It's a stressful job that could consume him.

But Ferchill, 64, has plenty of passions at home that also need his attention.

Like Hadley, Cato, Merle and Lowretta -- his indoor "dog collection."

And then, there are the nine classic cars out back.

"A lot of people in politics or the judiciary, their jobs become their life," said Ferchill, who has been judge of Probate Court No. 2 for 29 years and was recently elected to another four-year term. "I've always had a steady interest in something other than my profession. ... During my retirement, whenever that is, I think I'm going to be busy.'"

On a recent afternoon, the judge's two pastimes came together in the driveway his west Fort Worth home, where he and his wife, Cantey, 63, have lived for years. At Ferchill's encouragement, the dogs eagerly jumped into his gold, 1965 Eldorado convertible.

"I pile them in and we go ride around the neighborhood," Ferchill said.

Full Article and Source:
Tarrant Judge Collects Cars and Canines